“is” – The Art of the Present Tense
Contributing Writer : Garret K. Woodward
With age comes discipline, with discipline comes creation, and with creation comes beauty.
A three-piece jam band from the Hudson Valley (New York), “is”, a trio brimming with unique sound and improvisational talents, consists of Pieter Van Leeuwen (keyboards/vocals), Mike Friest (bass/vocals), and Matt Donohue (drums).
“Our name refers to the present tense and reflects that what happens in our live show is now, and will never happen like this again,” Van Leeuwen said. “We’re a band without a guitar player. This creates thick, gooey landscapes of adventurous sound during our jams. We consistently strive to bring quality and diverse songs with soulful lyrics to the table.”
“The music makes people dance, freak out, and most importantly, listen.”
Formed in 1998, the group went through many different arrangements before settling into their current ensemble.
“I was in this band Indian Summer,” said Van Leeuwen. “Before I knew it, we moved to California. Over the next year and a half the band fell apart, mostly due to failing relationships. We parted ways with each of our guitar players, one for committal reasons, and the other because of musical differences.”
“The band never intended to be a three-piece, but there we were. After rehearsing with what we had, we discovered a newly found freedom with this line-up. We played up and down the west coast. Eventually, we decided it was time to come home. There’s just something about the east coast.”
But, Friest and Van Leeuwen were again left stranded when their drummer soon returned to California for personal reasons.
Cue Matt Donohue.
“Matt’s got a world of musical experience,” Van Leeuwen said. “[Donohue] has played in many different bands, covering a wide array of styles. He’s added so much to our sound since joining [in 2008]. We feel we have reached a whole new level.”
Citing Phish, Tom Waits, Medeski Martin and Wood, Grateful Dead, Yes, and Bruce Hornsby (among others) as influences, the trio takes great pride in its improvisational approach.
“The greatest, most inspiring live music experiences are usually during improvisation,” said Van Leeuwen. “You get 15 minutes into a jam and it’s kind of like you let go of the steering wheel. The vehicle just continues driving itself. It truly feels like something is being channeled through me in those special moments.”
“I can sit back and watch it all happen, the guys playing, the audience adjusting their moves to whatever we’re creating. It’s beautiful.”
And though the current musical landscape in constantly changing, with thousands of bands appearing and disappearing each year, “is” looks forward to the challenge and unknown possibilities.
“Things have obviously changed drastically, much due to the Internet. People don’t need to go to record stores anymore when they can stay at home and download,” Van Leeuwen said. “The kids of the future will never know what it was like to go out and buy a new record. The world is at our fingertips, but sometimes we need to go outside and climb a real tree, not a virtual tree. But, if you have a steady group of fans, you don’t necessarily need to be represented by record companies anymore.”
“Right now we want to play, make our music available to our listeners, and build up fans on the east coast. Bands like us often find success and sustenance through touring and ticket sales, not so much radio play. We want to keep people interested in going out to see live music.”
So why does the group keep venturing into the Adirondacks?
“I’ve been coming to the Adirondacks since I was a child. They are my favorite mountain range in the world to hike,” said Van Leeuwen. “Each season is beautiful. The forests are rich and dense. The mountains are unforgiving and many of them offer breathtaking views. The weather is raw and the people are real. We’ve got some great fans up here. We truly enjoy playing in this area.”
At the end of the day, “is” just simply wants to create a connection between those onstage and in the audience. It is a bond only formed in the presence of live music.
“I want fans and listeners to know that what we do is our passion. We live to make music. It keeps us alive. It flows through our veins,” Van Leeuwen said. “Playing live is not a job or a gig, but a love and a necessity. I want people to feel like they joined us in a musical journey, that it was an experience we all shared together.”
“There’s nothing like someone approaching you and telling you that they really like the lyrics in that last song they just heard or that they had an epiphany during that last jam. I hope people walk away taking notice of the musical relationship that the band has. I want the listener to leave wanting more, because there is so much to be heard.”